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Microsoft quietly bangs Bing's big bucks drum

Startups paid to bet on Redmond's loss-maker

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Microsoft has created an angel investment fund for startups using its Bing.com search and ads platform.

The Bing Fund is described in a Microsoft job posting for a creative director as “a small team working with start-ups and accelerators to bring a wave of innovation to OSD”. OSD is Microsoft’s Online Services Division.

The creative director job post states that the Bing Fund, first reported here by Mary-Jo Foley, has a portfolio which includes "startups working on the web, desktop, mobile and console".

It appears that funding is not reserved for projects which solely use Microsoft technologies – a program manager job posting here says Microsoft wants engineers with broad experience of HTML, Javascript jQuery, the LAMP stack, AWS, Heroku, Google App Engine in addition to C#, ASP.NET and Windows Azure.

Heading up the Bing Fund is Rahul Sood, a former general manager for Microsoft’s Xbox and founder of PC maker VoodooPC, which was bought by Hewlett Packard in 2006. Sood joined Microsoft in 2011 and became a general manager at Xbox, which is part of Microsoft’s entertainment unit that is also home to Bing. Sood took over Bing Fund in March this year, according to his LinkedIn bio.

Microsoft hasn’t officially announced Bing Fund and everything seems to be in stealth mode. But there have been job postings, a cryptic Twitter feed – since the end of June – and now a website. A recent tweet from Sood suggests that his "new project" will launch in mid-July.

It's not unusual for tech companies to invest in startups to promote their platform or technologies: SAP, Intel and Google all run funds. Microsoft has run a programme called BizSpark under Silicon Valley veteran Dan’l Lewin since October 2008. BizSpark gives startups free access to Microsoft tools, technologies, and services and is open to private companies which are less than three years old and have less than $1m revenue. Microsoft claims more than 30,000 startups have joined the programme so far.

One beneficiary of BizSpark is IssueLive, co-founded by Bing Fund senior programme manager David Raskino.

Bing, along with Microsoft's online services business, are the weakest performing areas of Redmond’s empire. Despite pouring billions into building Bing, the business still earns Microsoft relatively little cash – $700m in the company’s most recent quarter – while it also reported a loss. The outlook is not great either: Microsoft just wrote off $6.2bn on the failed aQuantive acquisition from 2007, saying expectations for the future growth and profitability of OSD are lower than previous estimates.

Microsoft will likely use its annual Worldwide Partner Conference this week to rally both new and existing partners to Bing, asking them to build businesses and services on the platform. It wouldn't be the first time chief exec Steve Ballmer has begged partners to show Bing some love. ®

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